Questions are being asked after Gerard Robinson, Florida’s Education Commissioner, who suddenly announced that he was resigning effective August 31st. State education officials said that Robinson submitted his letter of resignation to Governor Rick Scott and to State Board of Education Chairwoman Kathleen Shanahan earlier this week, giving distance from his family as the reason why he could no longer perform his job.
However, some are not inclined to accept that personal issues were the only reasons behind the move. Valerie Strauss, writing for the Washington Post, wonders if Robinson isn’t being set up as the fall guy for a spate of recent scandals in school districts around the state related to the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. Getting rid of Robinson, she suggests, could be be considered a way to quickly put to bed the questions about the FCAT and the related issues with Florida’s school accountability system.
If that is the case, Strauss doesn’t believe that the FCAT’s critics could be silenced so easily. After all, Florida’s experiment with an accountability system based primarily on standardized test scores makes it a pioneer in the movement to adopt similar school assessment programs in other parts of the country. The progenitor of the standardized test-based school ratings, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, tours extensively promoting the “Florida Miracle” to education officials in other states.
In light of that, Strauss contends, Florida education officials were understandably alarmed when they found out that only 27% of the state’s fourth-graders got a passing score on the latest round of assessments — a drop of more than 50 percentage points from the year before. Similarly poor performance was recorded for other tests and other grades all over the state. Faced with having to rate the majority of schools and teachers in the state as underperforming, officials instead chose to lower the passing grade.
In response to FCAT critics at the time, Robinson said that schools spend less than 1% of their instructional time preparing children for the exam, something that was later called out by PolitiFact, a website that evaluates the truth value of the statements made by politicians all over the country.
Robinson wrote that in a response to a growing anti-testing movement in Florida, where more than a dozen school boards and the Florida School Boards Association have passed resolutions criticizing the FCAT. In that response he wrote:
“The FCAT neither drives the curriculum nor narrows the educational experience of Florida students. These assessments average two to three per student per school year and account for less than 1 percent of the instructional time provided during the year. It is worth noting that local school boards require students to take many more assessments than those required by the state.”